The Croatian President Can’t Sing

Total Croatia News

December 11, 2018 — Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitavorić continued her rambunctious 2018 with a ear-scorching duet accompanying singer Mato Bulić at “Širokobriješj večer“, a Hercegovina-loving bacchanal in Zagreb.

Grabar-Kitarović’s bubbly nature and flamboyant national pride has become the subject of a debate, amongst the media if not the people. Is it “becoming” for a Head of State and politician of her stature to behave this way?

While the President sings, once-proud industries flounder and the government openly questions checks meant to curtail its hubris. Worst of all, Croats continue to leave the country in droves. Even the sweetest Siren’s song may not pull them back.

Is now the best time to sign? Even as a release valve for tense times?

Who could forget her memorable showing at the World Cup in Russia? Oh, those rain-soaked hugs and hop-along locker room celebrations.

Grabar-Kitarović’s passionate support of the Croatian national team made her a media sensation. And Head of State most often confused for Ice T’s wife, Cocoa.

Is she substantively raising her country’s profile, or simply making a spectacle of herself? Shouldn’t the president be doing something — anything — other than singing and serving as the nation’s de facto sports mascot? Well… not really.


Few were surprised to discover the president belted another tune, least of all the Croatian public. The Croatian president has showed her penchant for sing-alongs, though being named after a song didn’t give her an angelic voice. Within hours of winning her first election, the President wailed along to the chorus of “Oj, Hrvatska Mati”.

(The second verse of the song gives a shoutout to parts of modern-day Bosnia and Serbia… But that’s neither here nor there.)

If it it’s hard to remember Grabar-Kitarović taking unilateral, decisive action on matters foreign or domestic, it’s because she can’t. The Croatian president’s immense passion and seemingly-perpetual charm offensive reveals an uncomfortable truth: she doesn’t have much else to do.

The government and Prime Minister hold sway over all legislative matters, domestic and most foreign. It executes laws, sets economic policy, oversees the administration of government duties… The list goes on. The office Grabar-Kitarović holds was rendered toothless long before she occupied it. What else is there to do but sing?

Following the death of Croatia’s first president Franjo Tudman, who weilded enviable power during his time in office, the Croatian Constitution was ammended, transferring a sizable list of duties to the government and parliament.

The remaining piecemeal list of presidential duties often includes the caveat “with the countersignature of the Prime Minister” or requires some form of Parliamentary involvement. The changes mean Croats can elect a president, but not a dictator. Even the few exclusive duties afforded the president have been rendered moot by international treaties and alliances.

Grabar-Kitarović has chaffed at the binds placed upon the office, trying hard to come into direct contact with the electorate via a roving office, often settling far away from Zagreb and the long shadow of the Prime Minister.

It’s the Prime Minister who’s hounded by policy-related questions, which Andrej Plenković handles in a manner so matter-of-fact one wonders if his heart rate is somehow fixed between “Snooze” and “Out to lunch.” (Grabar-Kitarović’s outsized personality seems to offer a counterweight.) 

Grabar-Kitarović, then, is hemmed in by the country’s guiding document in all but a few areas: Matters of national security and the hiring and firing of generals remains the office’s singular domain.

In states of emergency or natural disasters, she can declare martial law and curtail constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms — only if Parliament cannot convene to vote. The president can also dissolve Parliament — upon the government’s request.

Otherwise, Grabar-Kitarović has largely been relegated to ceremonial events, such as the unveiling of statues that hardly the resemble the person memorialized. And homespun outreach to locals, which she’s been known to botch in unusual ways.

Grabar-Kitarović’s foreign policy clout, although ostensibly substantial on paper, remains as a figurehead. In practice, she serves as chief diplomat to multinational bodies such as the United Nations, as well as Croatia’s immediate neighbors who aren’t in the European Union. But she’s not the first person either German Chancellor Angela Merkel or European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will call. Meanwhile, she hasn’t engratiated herself to Croatia’s neighbors either.

Even her recent duet is laced with shadow populism. Herecegovina native Bulić has made a name with sugary pseudo-nationalism celebrating the ethno-Croatian bit of Bosnia. It’s an awkward moment to share a mic with the man — while Bosnia is complaining about Croatia meddling in its affairs.

Grabar-Kitarović may be using the wrong instrument. Because every jersey-clad cheer and song reminds us the office of Croatian president’s office isn’t so much vox populi as it is “Vox et praeterea nihil.” Plutarch’s description of a nightingale: A voice and nothing more.


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